At consumer fairs in particular, but also “at the front door” and in sales channels on television, appliances are offered which are built into or attached to the water pipe and are intended to soften the tap water by means of magnetic force. In the last few years, a whole branch of industry has developed here with companies of impressive size. Such Drink Filtered magnetic water softeners regularly cost a lot of money, up to several thousand euros.
This is all the more impressive because such devices are absolutely ineffective and cannot function at all from a physical point of view. Below you can find out what hard water is and what influence magnetic fields have on the formation of deposits. These theoretical considerations are rounded off by a practical test of a work colleague, who had such a device installed as a test.
The manufacturers of so-called magnetic water softeners claim with nebulous words that when water passes magnets the “structure” of the water or the salts dissolved in it or washed along with it is changed and that therefore the dissolved substances can neither deposit on the water pipe nor, for example, on drinking glasses. Manufacturers like to call passing magnets “physical water treatment”.
From a physical point of view, this is frankly a great humbug, because neither the structure of the water nor that of the dissolved substances can be influenced, because neither the water nor the dissolved substances have a solid structure at all. Their molecules are in a constant and completely disordered motion, as it corresponds to the nature of a liquid. But what really happens when water is exposed to a magnetic field with its dissolved or flushed substances? First of all you have to know what water is and what happens if you dissolve salts in water. You wonder about the term salt? This does not only mean table salt, but a whole group of substances, including the so-called carbonate hardness.
The hardness-forming salts are preferably calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate.
Without going into too much detail, one can say that all salts basically consist of a positively charged and a negatively charged ion. In the dry state, they come together in pairs, so that a single salt molecule appears uncharged to the outside. When drying, the salt molecules also form a lattice, which can be observed from the outside as crystal formation. When dissolved in water, the water molecules surround both the positive and negative ions and separate them from each other.
Electronic water softeners
Compared to magnetic water softeners, so-called electronic water softeners, which are also often offered by mail order, are relatively inexpensive at 25 – 125 euros. I have circuit diagrams of some devices which are very similar. These all consist of a very simple rectangular generator. The electronic circuit NE555 used there is an old acquaintance from the 70s, who is also very inexpensive with considerably less than 25 cents.
Apart from the sometimes extreme disproportion between manufacturing costs and selling price (a DVD player available from 30 Euro is not only a miracle of technology but also has an incredibly good price/performance ratio), you can really only enjoy the manufacturer’s information about the functionality delicious.
Experiment with magnetically treated water
In order to avoid all religious wars between technically and esoterically or “parascientifically” influenced people, one of my colleagues had accepted the offer of a manufacturer and installed a magnetic water softener, which should cost about 1500 Euro, in his house as a test. It was a device with permanent magnets that had to be installed in the water pipe. After the device had been in operation for some time, water was tapped off in front of and behind the device and examined in our laboratory. Result: Absolutely no difference.
Most obviously, the simplest experiment, in which the same amount of water was left to dry on a glass plate, revealed the truth: With the best will in the world, no difference could be detected. The assertion often heard from manufacturers of such devices that the salts that dry out magnetically treated water with a soft cloth can be wiped off very easily proved to be absolutely unstable and completely extracted from the air: The salt crystals adhered just as stubbornly to the glass plates as they did to completely untreated water. The repeatedly heard assertions that the lime layer no longer separates in a kettle is much easier to remove and that existing lime layers are slowly dissolved also proved to be the product of a blooming salesman’s fantasy. Also with pH value and other chemical characteristic data there were no deviations.
Based on these shocking results, my colleague had the plant expanded again. The return was by the way not completely unproblematic, because the salesman, who had promised a free and noncommittal trying out before installation, suddenly nothing more of it wanted to know. The fact that the return led at all to success was to be owed exclusively to the fact that the plant was not yet paid and my colleague could not be intimidated.